Written by Derek Beres
As the saying goes, when in Russia, do as the Russians (or something like that). While Toronto may not be Russia, while visiting a Russian vodka bar in the East End, I asked the bartendress to suggest a drink. She asked what my normal order was. I responded Ketel One with club soda and lime, to which she retorted, "Then you're not really tasting vodka." Fair enough. She wasn't being facetious, but factual. I nodded my head; she put a finger to her lip before replying, "Zubrówka," Polish bison grass vodka. When in Russia, do as the Poles, obviously.
She dumped two ounces into a shaker with ice, gave it a few twirls before pouring the strained liquid into an aperitif glass. Expecting the harsh burn of other vodkas I've sampled neat, my nostrils flared with the unexpected scent of cinnamon. The finish was long and easy. For a moment I swore she had snuck in a mixer, but this was only my introduction to a legendary Polish drink that has been in continuous production for half a millennium. Distilled with a tincture of buffalo (or bison) grass, Zubrówka has become my preferred drink at the rare bar that stocks it.
2 ounces Zubrówka
4 ounces apple cider
You can, of course, adjust according to taste and desired effect. This vodka is rather dangerous, however. Anything but harsh and admitting hints of cinnamon, coconut and vanilla, the apple cider quickly dilutes any of the 'alcohol' taste, leaving in its place fresh floral notes that accent the heaviness of the apple.
In America your options for true Zubrówka are limited: FDA regulations ban the use of the naturally occurring chemical compound coumarin in foods. Zu, produced in conjunction with Rémy Cointreau, is available without coumarin. It is still quite tasty, though not as potent as the glass I had in Toronto. When mixed with delicious cider on a brisk autumn eve, no complaints will be heard.
Keep in touch with Derek on Twitter @derekberes